Cradled in Robert Mihaly's arms is a sock monkey, with its limbs torn off and replaced with grotesquely protruding human bones.

Visitors to the Bryan Center Sunday witnessed this scene along with the opening of Mihaly's exhibit, A Pantheon of Modern Gods: An Anthropological Expedition into Corridors of Power. The monkey, entitled "Cherub," is characteristic of Mihaly's work, which routinely employs human bones, bone dust, blood and gunpowder to convey illuminating social commentary.

The show contains a selection of oil paintings and sculptures, replete with religious iconography and titled after what Mihaly considers contemporary deities, such as the Goddess of Conformity and the God of Central Banks.

"Most of the gods here are what someone might call false gods," Mihaly said. "They're not the gods I'm recommending, lets put it that way. They're ones that I see in the world that move people."

Luring people into the gallery is "Goddess of Media," an image of Scarlett Johansson dressed in religious robes, the flattened style of her body typical of iconographic church paintings. Splatters of black paint violently mar the left side of her face as she holds up two newspapers emblazoned with apocalyptic headlines. Surrounding the work is a heavily carved and gilded frame, accented liberally with blood and bone dust.

The most powerful works in the exhibit, however, are the ones that suggest frightening political possibilities. Displayed together are "Goddess of Eugenics" and "God of Universal Pandemics." The former is a replication of Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus," except the central figure's body is pierced with bullet holes dripping authentic blood. The latter work features a man sporting a gas mask as biohazard signs float whimsically around his head. Both paintings are supplemented by remarks of well-known leaders detailing past and current plots to cleanse the population. All Mihaly's works are similarly accompanied by quotations, subtly shaping viewers' opinions.

"Instead of having a description on his cards, he has a slew of quotes," said junior Grace Huang, head of the Visual Arts Committee, which organizes the Brown gallery's exhibits. "You can see what he's trying to show, but there's still a lot of interpretation."

A more controversial sculpture depicts a female form supporting a lead canister that contains a piece of depleted uranium-a known toxic substance.

"The radioactivity of depleted uranium is extremely small and certainly stopped by a sealed lead canister," wrote Warren Warren, James B. Duke professor of chemistry and radiology, in an e-mail. "The biggest danger with uranium, as with any other heavy metal, is that it is toxic. You don't want to swallow or inhale much of it."

Overall, Mihaly's combination of the gaudy and the gory underscores how death is viewed and consumed culturally.

"There are tons of images of death in our culture," Mihaly said. "And here I am, holding a sock monkey with legs made out of bones-but I'm trying to convey that death is not cool. It's just not cool to be reckless with peoples' health."

A Pantheon of Modern Gods: An Anthropological Expedition into Corridors of Power is on display now through May 5 in the Bryan Center's Louis Jones Brown Gallery.